(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Children who have escaped war-torn Syria are being forced to work 13-hour days for less than £2 in their new host countries.
Millions of child refugees in neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, are having to spend their days carrying out gruelling work in order to make ends meet.
These countries are struggling to cope with the thousands of people in need of employment and education.
In a desperate attempt to support their families, children are foregoing their education to work seven days a week in menial jobs.
The UN estimates that five million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries since the war began more than six years ago.
Turkey has taken in the highest number of refugees, followed by Jordan and Lebanon – but in these countries children are being forced to give up their education completely, or have been left desperately trying to catch up on school that they missed out on after the war broke out and their families were displaced.
In Jordan, there are more than 660,000 registered refugees from Syria – at least 330,000 of whom are children under the age of 18. Among those, 103,000 are younger than five years old.
Laura Ouseley, world news officer at CAFOD international development charity, spent time with families in Amman, Jordan’s capital.
She spoke to Metro.co.uk about the tough, prematurely adult lives Syrian kids are being forced to lead there.
Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian boy, lives in Amman. He is the sole breadwinner in his family.
‘When I visited his home, he was out working a gruelling 13-hour shift as a cleaner in a bookshop, as he does seven days a week,’ Laura said.
More than 40,000 Syrian child refugees in Jordan are receiving no education at all – meaning they’re missing out on a vital part of their childhood development, and an opportunity to be kids and make friends.
Laura explained: ‘A mountain of obstacles keep children like Ahmed out of school, and the more time they miss, the harder it is to return.
‘In Ahmed’s case, it is out of pure desperation on the part of his family, who are struggling to make ends meet, deep in debt, and with no other means of income. Life as a Syrian refugee is extremely tough.’
His mother, Salwa, told Laura that ‘if we have food, we eat – otherwise we don’t’.
Despite his young age, Ahmed supports his 35-year-old mother, his 80-year-old grandmother, and his six younger brothers and sisters. Most of his siblings won’t remember Syria, but will only have memories of hard times in Jordan.
He earns just 2½ Jordanian dinars a day – the equivalent of £1.09 – for his work at the bookshop. It’s barely enough to feed his nine-strong family properly.
The family fled Aleppo four years ago to seek safety in Jordan, after Salwa’s brother and father were killed in the war. After they got to Jordan, Salwa’s husband left her for another woman.
Two of the children are educated with support from Caritas Jordan, a local organisation supported by CAFOD. Caritas picks up the kids, gives them a snack, and makes sure they have a safe space to learn and play.
A teacher at the school told Laura that, for some children, the snack is the only meal they get: ‘They take it home to share with their brothers and sisters.’
And Salwa is desperate for her children to have a better life.
‘My children tell me some kids have pocket money, but they have nothing,’ she told Laura. ‘I feel so bad I can’t do the same.
‘Sometimes when Ahmed goes to work he is weeping. He comes back very tired, and just needs to sleep all the time.
‘I feel very depressed thinking about him, but what can I do? This is the only way for us to survive.’
But Ahmed wasn’t the only child in this situation that Laura met.
Laura explained: ‘On my visit to Jordan and to Lebanon, I met many other children – some younger than Ahmed – who are out of school and being forced to work long hours to support their families.
‘The challenges are numerous. Distance to school, overcrowding, safety in and on the way to school, no money to pay for school materials, poverty, and the need to work: these are just some of the reasons children aren’t in school, or drop out.’
Although financial problems are the most common obstacle, Caritas’s education project co-ordinator Waed Imseeh said that violence, early marriage and bullying in schools also keep children from being able to attend.
‘Some children have difficulties with the Jordanian curriculum,’ she said. ‘Others have problems with the low quality of education.’
Like Ahmed and his family, 93% of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are living outside of refugee camps, and below the poverty line.
Rent for the family costs 150 Jordanian dinars – around £164 – a month, excluding water and electricity. For that, the nine family members all share one large room, where they sleep on thin foam mats.
Paying this rent is an increasing struggle for Salwa.
‘We haven’t paid the landlord the full amount,’ she cries. ‘We have debts. I had to leave two homes because I couldn’t pay the rent.’
Life wasn’t always like this for the family, though. In Aleppo, before the war, they had a settled life, and a house.
Salwa reminisced: ‘Back in Aleppo, before the war broke out, everything was different. We used to have a house. Life was calm. Vegetables were very cheap, everything was cheap.’
But her mother-in-law Suaad interjects: ‘At least here you don’t feel worried or unsafe just eating bread. So many houses were left in ruins in Syria. Many people, children and the elderly, were thrown to the ground.’
Laura explained that Syrian parents are trying desperately to keep their kids in school, seeing education as ‘the opportunity for a better future’. Many, however, do not succeed.
‘Having escaped the horrors of war in Syria, children should not have to sacrifice their education,’ Laura said.
‘Making sure there are school places, and that children turn up for class, is not easy.
‘It requires a flexible school system, addressing the barriers that exist, and securing sufficient funding.’